An Introduction To Corvids

I am beyond, and I mean beyond flattered and excited that Audubon California featured my blog on their FaceBook page (THANK YOU!).  With such an influx of new viewers, it made me realize a brief introduction to corvids might be in order, for general knowledge.  Some of you may already know this information, but I think it’s worthwhile putting out there for people just getting interested in corvids, and birds in general.

Edit: I don’t follow Twitter, so I just got word that apparently my blog has also been getting tweeted around there.  WOW!  THANK YOU EVERYONE!!!!

So just what are Corvids?

Corvids are a group of birds, specifically birds found in the family Corvidae, which is a subgroup of the much larger group of perching/songbirds (Passerines).  Members of the corvidae include crows, ravens, magpies, jays, treepies, choughs, nutcrackers, the piapiac, and the Stresemann’s bushcrow.  This means that all of these birds share a common corvid ancestor that radiated into ~23 genera containing ~126 species originating in the Australasian region of the world (now found everywhere except Antarctica).  This means this blog has a lot of species to draw from and talk about.  Of course, the most charismatic and well-known of the corvids are the crows (which includes the ravens, rook, and jackdaws), as well as jays and magpies.  I hope to touch on at least some of the lesser-known corvids and convince you that they too are interesting!

Let’s take a moment to get something clear about magpies.  Not all birds with the word “magpie” in the name are corvids.  You have magpie geese, magpie shrikes, and, of course, the Australian magpie, none of which are corvids!  I can’t tell you how many times I find articles about corvids that feature an Australian magpie or a currawong (or any kind of Cracticid) photograph to accompany.  However, you now know that they are not corvids!  Go forth and correct your friends and family!  BE that guy/gal! 😉

 

Why do you care about them so much?  Why should I care about them?

Personally, I find them endlessly fascinating.  Corvids have such rich social structure, behavior, and ecology, and many members have shown feats of intelligence that rivals, and sometimes exceeds, that of many primates (including chimpanzees!).  How’s that for bird-brained?  I also find them aesthetically beautiful.  You may wonder what’s so beautiful about big black birds, but their form is so elegant and many of the corvids are actually quite colorful!  The oriental magpies and the new world jays have an astonishing array of colors, interesting crests, and some have extravagantly long tails.  However, my heart truly does belong to those “big, black birds”…so I have to admit that this blog will likely be biased toward them.  (I have spent the past six years of my life studying a population of wild American crows [Corvus brachyrhynchos] and every passing day they just endear themselves to me more and more.)

You should probably care because corvids play interesting roles in the ecology of the natural world and, like any other species, warrant study and investigation to understand them further.  Closer to home, you should probably care because you likely have corvids in your backyard, neighborhood, park, city, etc.  Many corvids have adapted to the challenges of human-dominated environments and thrived.  Because of their ability to take advantage of us, corvids are featured porminently in our myth, folklore, and are deeply embedded in much of our past and current culture.  These are birds that made our ancestors sit up and take notice (mostly by stealing our food and being a general nuisance of themselves), and I think it’s just as important to notice them today.  The secret lives of these birds are endlessly fascinating and will likely surprise you!

So, I hope you enjoy this blog and learn something about my favorite group of birds.  I hope they become your favorite group too!

Finally, here is a photo of a posture crows take on when they are observing humans…because I really like pictures.

 

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About The Corvid Blog

Hi, I am Dr. Jennifer Campbell-Smith and I love corvids (well, anything nature really, but these birds have a big place in my heart). I received my PhD in behavioral ecology studying the social structures and social learning of wild American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos). I now teach at a STEM school while continuing to do research where I can and with my secondary students. My goal on this blog is to spread the corvid love by sharing information, photographs, and artwork, and dispelling common myths. Feel free to ask me anything, but note that it can take me a bit to reply. If you have an emergency with a captive corvid, please call a local avian vet. If you have an emergency with a wild corvid, please call a local licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility. Thanks! These are truly some of the most fascinating birds on the planet!

12 thoughts on “An Introduction To Corvids

  1. tedra

    Corvids, and crows especially, are already my favorite birds. So glad to have found this blog!

  2. The Corvid Blog Post author

    Can do!! I’ve been meaning to do a big post about them and spotted nutcrackers for a while now! There are some REALLY interesting things that go along with their incredible memories!

  3. jean rice

    We now have lots of crows in our neighborhood and I am careful not to curse at them or insult them since I learned from a PBS show that they can recognize faces and remember insults!

    Jean Rice

  4. The Corvid Blog Post author

    Jean,

    You probably learned that from the documentary “A Murder of Crows” which features John Marzluff and his work with facial recognition. Fortunately I think crows have yet to master human insults and you are likely safe! However if you ever bother their babies, or throw things at them, THEN they will be sure to be on the alert every time you are around and express their displeasure with you. They also remember people who do nice things for them, like put out peanuts and yummy food scraps 😉

  5. Joshua Ozersky

    I think you are leaving out by far the best reason to love corvids, especially crows: they are one of the four or five most intelligent animals in the world.

  6. The Corvid Blog Post author

    Alas, Joshua, I in fact mentioned their amazing intelligence 🙂 I will likely pull together a couple of posts about it too! “…and many members have shown feats of intelligence that rivals, and sometimes exceeds, that of many primates (including chimpanzees!). How’s that for bird-brained?

  7. Terry Hampton

    We lived in Arkansas, in a wooded, hilly area. Hot Springs Village was a wonderful place to see the animal kingdom walking through your backyard, or flying around! Besides the deer, squirrels, chipmunks, bobcats, and occasional bears(we never saw one, but had the evidence of one in our yard!) we were in awe of the different birds that would be in our trees, and the birdbath we put out for them. Because we put deer corn out on the ground on a daily basis, it was picked up by the squirrels, too. But, we started seeing a number of crows walking around, picking up the pieces in their beaks. That wasn’t the ‘unusual’ part. What we noticed, was that they would always go right to the birdbath and DIP those pieces into the water over and over. We ‘assumed’ it was a way to soften the corn before they tried to eat it, but not sure about that. Would love to know if there is another explanation for this behavior. We found them so entertaining, and I have read about their intelligence. I understand they are one of the few bird species that will ‘recognize’ faces!

  8. Shell

    I’m overjoyed to find a site which celebrates corvids! I’ve been observing a pair of Torresian crows for about three years. This year is the first I’ve seen them with crowlets (I know, not an official term, but it fits). They started out with two crowlets around New Year 2014, but sadly lost one along the way – no idea what happened. The remaining youngster is still with the parents some 8 months after we first saw him/her. The scant amount of information online for Torresians suggests a live-with-parents phase of around 6 months – which can vary. I’m wondering if 2013/14 is the first successful breeding year for ‘our’ crows, and if this is a factor in how long the crowlets remain with the parents – do they invest more time and effort in offspring of a ‘first success’?

    We are pretty lucky in that the crows have grown used to us over time, and will follow us around seemingly observing us as much as we observe them. We’re reasonably sure we know which is the male – during what we now know was the nesting season, he was working like a Trojan carting food and water (he’d fill his crop from the bird bath) all day on his own for weeks! We didn’t see his partner again until she showed up with the two crowlets. Online sources say it is the female Torresian who incubates eggs and stays with the flightless young. Father crows work very hard!

    I’ve been collecting my observations about the parenting behaviour of this little family and have been struck by the patient teaching, tolerance (poor mum couldn’t take a bath without a bellowing crowlet at her ear), and I have to say affection – because there’s no other word for it – shown to the remaining crowlet (there’s discipline as well, when crowlet pushes his/her luck).

    All the best with your research!

  9. anitachowdry

    What a lovely blog! I have always loved corvids – they are very fascinating to observe, and I have always suspected those bird-brains go deeper than we think! Thankyou – I shall enjoy reading!

  10. Ghoster Rose

    I absolutely LOVE the Ravens and their tad bit smaller cousins, the Crows. I love them so much that I have two tattoos of Ravens and a business called The Healing Raven. Many associate these birds as the ‘Birds of Death’ but that only came about since the last few hundred years. Before that, our ancestors looked upon the Raven and the Crow as ‘Guardians’ probably because their calls can be heard for long distances and each ‘Caw’ means something. Our ancestors may have mastered the calls and learned what each one meant and would alert them to a predator in the area and to protect their livestock. Another symbol of the Raven and Crow is that they are ‘The Bringers of Light!’ They represent Renewal and Rebirth by casting Light into the Darkness!! And for my business that is my tag line ‘Bring the Light’. I’m so happy I found this blog. I just love these birds and I find them very beautiful too!! I also love their spookiness as well 🙂 You have captured some wonderfully, beautiful pics of these lovely birds!

  11. The Corvid Blog Post author

    Thank you! I’m glad you enjoy the blog. Different cultures definitely view crows and ravens differently, that’s for sure. I mean to do a post about crows and ravens in culture int he future. Thank you for your comment!

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